Hungary’s far-right party leader tries to soften image

EPA/Tamas Kovacs

Followers of the far-right Jobbik party commemorate the 167th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1848 revolution and war of independence against the Habsburg rule in Budapest, Hungary, 15 March 2015.

Hungary’s far-right party leader tries to soften image


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Hungary’s Gabor Vona, who leads Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, has long been criticised for his insults against Roma, gays and Israeli “occupiers”. But now the 38-year-old is reportedly trying to move his party into the mainstream.

As reported by The Financial Times, with Hungary’s parliamentary elections next year and speculation growing that Jobbik could form part of an alliance to oust Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the party is trying to soften its image.

In December, Vona sent Hanukkah greetings to Jewish leaders. He has expelled militant members. He also ordered a party member who spat on a Holocaust memorial to lay flowers at the site, a disciplinary action critics say did not go far enough. The party’s shift echoes that of other European far right parties — such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France — who are capitalising on a rising tide of populism and seeking to broaden their appeal, in part by expunging anti-Semitic attributes.

If Jobbik, now the second-biggest party in a fragmented political system, appears more conventional, Vona told the Financial Times this is because Europe’s political centre has shifted to the right. Policies once considered taboo have now entered the mainstream.

“There is now very little difference between Jobbik’s policies and the government on migration,” he said. “Jobbik has been successful at picking the spot that the mainstream will eventually reach.”

“Probably there are non-Roma who commit crimes, but when an old lady is killed for a pack of crème fraiche or a few pounds, in the vast majority of cases the perpetrators are Roma” 2009

Meanwhile, leftwing intellectuals and activists, including Hungarian philosopher and Holocaust survivor Agnes Heller, are now suggesting what was once unthinkable: a purely tactical alliance between Jobbik and liberal political parties to break the political stranglehold of Orban’s Fidesz party.

“Purely based on numbers it is true that if they went up against Fidesz together, they would defeat the governing party,” said Prof Heller, who suggested a short term arrangement to undo Orban’s constitutional changes.

 

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